Josephine Bakhita was born into a prominent tribal family in the Sudan; her father was the brother of a chief. No doubt she was given a name which signified the dignity of her family. Yet she was so traumatized at being kidnapped that she completely forgot her name! The slave traders gave her the name, “Bakhita”, or “Fortunate One”, perhaps even as a cruel joke. And yet divine providence proved to be on her side.
“I can truly say that it was a miracle I did not die, because the Lord had destined me for greater things…” she said. In spite of all she had endured, she credited God with keeping her life. Her name became prophetic, and she ultimately took the religious name Josefina Margarita Afortunada.
What's in a name? In biblical times names carried great significance. "To the Hebrews a name was not a label, or a tool to distinguish one person from another; a person's name was viewed as equivalent to the person himself. A person's name signified their person, worth, character, reputation, authority, will, and ownership." (J. Dulle, "The Biblical Significance of Names")
When someone underwent a change of name in the Bible, it had great meaning. After Jacob wrestled with an angel, God changed his name to Israel: "But Jacob said (to the angel), 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' So he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob'. Then the (angel) said, 'You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed'....And there he blessed him." (Genesis 32:26-29)
Josephine Bakhita's names had great meaning for her - both the name she was given and the one she chose at Baptism. Ultimately, however, it was the name of Christ she bent her knee to - and there He blessed her.
St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us!